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Books and Black Eyes

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Ash didn’t believe in love. He thought it was stupid, useless. All it gave you was pain and dulled instincts that could get you killed in the business him and Fez were in.

Fez’s grandma had taught them this lesson growing up and it seemed pretty fucking clear to Ash. Even though he was only 11, he promised himself he was going to stay away from anything that resembled love because in the end it was all better that way.

Ash thought Fez had understood this lesson, too, but then Lexi had appeared. When Fez had first met her, he’d spent all his time telling Ash about her and about all this pagan and Christmas shit that Ash couldn’t believe was real.

“Where are you getting this shit, man? No way that’s true.” Ash had said, waving Fez away.

But Fez had just stood his ground. “Shit’s true, it is! I searched it up and everything. Lexi knows her shit.”

Lexi this, Lexi that. Ash didn’t think he’d ever heard a name more than the name Lexi Howard. All Fez could talk about was this girl he’d met at that fateful New Year’s Eve party.

Honestly, Ash was sick of in-love Fez. The guy was walking around with a dopey look on his face and always smiling at his phone when he got a message. Ash hoped that if he was ever like this someone would just put him out of his misery.

But at least there had been some semblance of boundaries in the beginning, with Lexi’s presence seen only in the text messages Fez received.
Until Fez and Lexi crossed the line.

Lexi suddenly started hanging out at the store and their apartment all the time and Ash wanted to punch a hole in the wall. He would watch them from the outside station of the store, see Fez blushing and complimenting Lexi, her smiling at him, them hugging, giving small kisses to each other, laughing.

It made Ash want to throw up over how stupid Fez was being.

How could Fez put his instincts in danger for some girl? Yeah, she was nice and smart and pretty, in a doe eyed, soft haired, bright smile kinda way. But Ash would never admit that. Between the eyes and quiet aura about her Lexi reminded him a bit of a gazelle. And he figured he could easily scare away a gazelle.

So Ash spent his time glaring at Lexi from a distance and waiting for her to get fed up with it and run. However, Lexi didn’t run.

No, instead, Lexi crossed the line even further and started actually talking to Ash. How fucking dare she? She not only had to get entangled with Fez but now she had to go and try to be friends with Ash??

“Hey, Ash, how are you?” Lexi asked one day as she entered the store. Fez was working outside for the day and Ash was at the counter. He expected her just to say hi and go outside to join her boyfriend but instead she just took a seat next to him at the counter and smiled.

Ash could smell her peach-scented perfume from here and thought it was a kinda nice and comforting smell, but again he would never admit this.

“Fine.” He answered shortly. She seemed happy with this answer and just took out a book from her bag and started reading. He watched her get settled in with a curious look.

Ash cleared his throat, feeling the need to fill in the silence for some reason. “How are you?”

Lexi looked up from her book in surprise that Ash had actually talked to her and was being…nice.

“I’m good. Thank you for asking.” She was beaming at him now and Ash returned it with a small half smile/half grimace of his own. He didn’t know why he was being nice to her but it was like his mouth was betraying him. “Have you ever read this?”

Lexi showed him the cover of the book she was reading and he automatically shook his head. Ash didn’t want to admit it to her but he had never actually read a book. When you’re raised by a drug dealer and no parents, it wasn’t like you received much of an education beyond children’s books and math lessons to deal drugs.

“Oh it’s one of my favorite books, I reread it all the time. You can borrow it sometime if you want.”

Ash raised an eyebrow in question. “Why would you reread something? Isn’t once bad enough?”

Lexi scoffed, amusement in her eyes. “Because I love the story and the characters. When you read a really good book, it’s like you’re in that world. You’re invested and you just want to relive it.”

Ash couldn’t understand this. Yeah, sometimes he liked to rewatch movies or shows because he enjoyed them but with books? Nah. Never.

“Don’t you have a favorite book?” Lexi asked innocently, her doe eyes staring at him.

Ash felt himself start to blush at the question. He had never been ashamed of his background or who he was, but now that he was next to Lexi who was the smartest fucking person he knew, Ash suddenly felt embarrassed by his lack of education.

“Oh, umm,” Ash started, looking down, “I’ve never read a book. Never had time.”

Lexi’s eyes turned horrified at the thought of him going his whole life without reading. To her, it was a nightmare.

“Well, we need to change that, don’t we?” Lexi said after a minute, trying to think of what book Ash would like. She tried to think of what she liked when she was 11 but it all seemed too…girly and melodramatic for him.

Ash watched her think and knew he’d stepped in it now. There was no taking it back when Lexi had her brainstorming expression on. All he could do was mutter “shit” and something about needing to go stock the fridges as he escaped her.

He hoped that Lexi would forget about the whole book thing, but he should’ve known better.

A few days later, Lexi had shown up once again to the store, a book in hand. She had walked straight past a smiling Fez and stood in front of Ash at the counter. Ash looked up, unable to hide his surprise at her sudden appearance.

“I brought you something,” Lexi said, her whole body practically buzzing with excitement. Fez watched them with confusion, not understanding what his girlfriend was so excited over. Ash wasn’t very sure why she was excited either.

Suddenly, Lexi extended her hands and showed Ash the book she was holding.

A Series of Unfortunate Events.

“Never heard of it,” Ash said, staring at the strange cartoon cover as if she were giving him a pile of trash.

“Oh, c’mon, never?” Lexi asked, eyes wide from shock.

Ash shook his head and started trying to come up with a way to run out of there. He did not spend his whole life avoiding being sent to school just for Lexi to appear and start giving him books to read.

But that is indeed what happened. Lexi had given Ash an earful about how he needed to read and how it would help stretch his brain and blah blah blah. Honestly, Ash only took the book from her so she would stop lecturing him on his brain or whatever.

As soon as she left the store, Ash turned to Fez and gave him a scowl.

“You need to get rid of her before she starts trying to explain the periodic table or some shit like that.” Ash looked sternly at Fez, who only looked amused.

“Sorry, bro. Lexi gets what she wants. If I was you, I’d read that ‘fore she gets mad.”

Great, Ash thought, not even Fez would help him out.

Fez’s love life was destroying Ash, and Fez didn’t even fucking care.

Whatever.

He angrily sat in his bed that night and flipped open the book. He had a plan that he’d read this shit and then tell Lexi just how shit it was. Then she’d never give Ash another book, right?

However, things did not go according to plan. Ash was about two chapters in when he realized the plan had been completely forgotten in his mind. Instead, the words on the page had hooked him, the characters and fictional world drawing him into their grasp.

Ash could relate to the characters, him being an orphan in a way as well. He hadn’t ever thought a piece of writing could totally take him out of reality but suddenly it was 9 AM and Fez was knocking at his door for him to wake up.

What Fez didn’t know was that Ash had been up all night reading the book. He’d finished it in one sitting, his vision swirling from staring at tiny words for too long.

“Fuck.” Ash muttered as he realized he’d completely sabotaged his own plan.

When Lexi showed up at the store like usual later that day, she looked at Ash expectantly.

“So? Did you start reading yet?”

Ash scowled at her as he slid the book to her across the counter. Lexi’s face fell as he did, thinking he didn’t even try.

But then Ash gave a small shrug. “Finished it this morning. Pretty good but Klaus is a little shit. Can’t even throw a punch or nothin’.”

Lexi stared at him with wide eyes full of joy, practically jumping where she stood.

“I knew you’d like it! Most of my books are more romance stuff so it was hard to find one you’d like but then I saw these books on my shelf. I read them when I was about your age, too. Do you want to read the second one?” Lexi was talking a mile a minute and Ash was having a hard time keeping up with her excitement.

“There’s a second one?”

She let out a soft laugh. “Dude, there’s thirteen.”

“What the fuck?” Thirteen books like the one he’d just read? No fucking way. “Can you bring them?” Ash momentarily forgot to reign in his excitement and showed Lexi the spark in him that no one really saw besides Fez.

It was at that moment that Ash saw something in her eyes that threw him off. She was beaming brightly at him and her eyes held what looked like…pride? It wasn’t something he was used to and he felt a weird warmth fill his chest.

Fez was just watching them with a smile on his face as stood against the fridges. He had been worried for a while that Ash would never approve of Lexi, which he didn’t understand because Lexi was the most amazing person he’d ever met. But now, watching Lexi look at Ash so proudly for reading the book and Ash listening to her talk intently, he was gaining some hope.

...........

 

It was two weeks later when Ash found himself on the 4th book in the series. However, at the moment, he wasn’t really thinking about the books or characters.

Instead, he was focused on the pain erupting from his face.

Him and Fez had just gotten back from a drug deal that hadn’t gone as they expected. One moment they were selling pills to a group of addicts, the next the addicts were trying to jump them and take their whole stash.

They had both gotten away in the end but Ash had a black eye and scratch across his cheek while Fez had torn knuckles and a bruise forming on his jaw. Plus the few scratches and scrapes that seemed to appear at least once a week.

They were both sitting at the kitchen table in their apartment when the door suddenly opened. Both of them grabbed their guns on the table, worried the addicts had followed them somehow, but when the person stepped inside they saw it was only Lexi, a smile on her face and a book in her hands.

However, the minute she saw their faces her smile dropped and was replaced with worry.

“Oh my god, what happened?” Lexi ran over to them and immediately dropped in front of Fez. Ash watched as she checked the scrapes on his skin, her hands holding his face tenderly.

Ash had to look away at the intimacy of the moment but he heard them whispering to each other. Fez was explaining what had happened and Lexi was scolding him for putting himself in danger.

It was all very fucking domestic and sweet but Ash felt like a third wheel at the moment. This was another reason why he had despised Lexi’s appearance in their lives. Fez was his brother, the only person in the world that looked after him.

But what would happen when Fez suddenly became consumed by thoughts of Lexi? Would Fez even have time for Ash? Would everything be different? What if Fez just gave up the business and decided Ash was a lost cause, too far into this world for him to be part of Fez and Lexi’s life together?

Ash was pulled out of his worried thoughts by Lexi suddenly kneeling in front of him. The boy turned his head and found Lexi examining his own bruises and scrapes.

He couldn’t even speak as she tutted at the injuries. Next thing he knew, Lexi was holding a cold compress to his eye and rubbing antiseptic cream over his cuts.

“You both need to be more careful. What am I supposed to do when you both come back from a deal with something worse than some cuts and bruises?” Lexi scolded them as she fixed up Ash.

Ash was speechless as she worked but Fez only gave a sympathetic smile.

“Sorry, babe. Promise, we’ll be safer. I’m sorry,” Fez said, actually sounding genuine, “You don’t need to be fuckin’ worrying about us though. We know what we doin’.”

Lexi frowned at Fez’s words. Her fingers were warm against Ash’s skin as she held his chin in her hand, examining his face for any cuts she missed.

“Fez, I’m always going to worry about you two. I hate seeing you hurt.” Lexi’s eyes moved worriedly between the two of them and Ash suddenly felt his heart stop momentarily.

No one had ever cared like this for Ash. He had been sold by his own mother for drugs, left alone by Fez’s grandma most of the time. It had only been Fez his whole life taking care of him.

But suddenly Lexi was here, holding Ash’s face in her hands and cleaning his cuts and worrying for his safety. He had never felt the presence of any maternal or sisterly figure in his life before but now he was feeling so overwhelmed by the maternal care clear on Lexi’s face.

They were both unaware that Fez was looking at them with a soft smile, watching his girlfriend fret over his younger brother like he was her friend, her brother, her son. It was strange to think, the family of three they’d created over the course of just a few months but Ash and Fez couldn’t imagine it anymore without Lexi’s presence.

And as Lexi continued lecturing Fez and Ash about how they needed to take care of themselves and stop getting into so many fights over dumb things, Ash realized that maybe love wasn’t so bad.

It wasn’t stupid or useless. It was kinda beautiful. It was what brought Fez and Lexi together. Without it, Ash would be miserable, cleaning up his own cuts and feeling alone. But he wasn’t alone anymore.

As much as he hated to admit it, Ash loved that Lexi had entered their lives. Despite her pushing him to read and trying to sneak him all types of school books and lecturing him over his safety, Ash smiled at Lexi for the first time.

And Lexi smiled right back.